The India-Pakistan Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), agreed to during a telephone conversation between the two DGMOs in November 2003, is way past its expiry date. And it’s time we recognised this.
History tells us that written ceasefire agreements tend to endure longer than unwritten ones. That’s because the former have inbuilt mechanisms to ensure compliance and perhaps even verification. Moreover, countries sharing contested boundaries and engaged in protracted conflicts and territorial disputes would typically find it harder to sustain CFAs, let alone unwritten ones.
How the CFA Brought Down Violations
Let’s turn to the specific case of the India-Pakistan CFA and the recurrent ceasefire violations (CFVs). But first, a short history lesson.
The 2003 ceasefire agreement had put a temporary end to the hundreds of firing incidents that used to occur every year since 1972. They had been so frequent as there was no treaty mechanism after the Bangladesh war that prevented the two sides from firing at each other on the line of control (LoC) and the international border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir.
This free-for-all firing spiked in 2001 (4,134 incidents) and 2002 (5,767 incidents) due to the fence-building activity undertaken by India in J&K. The 2003 CFA dramatically pacified the border, with 2004 witnessing just four violations and 2007 witnessing three of them. The India-Pakistan peace process, in full swing during those years, and the CFA contributed to the calm on the border.
Ceasefire violations started mounting in 2008 (with the Kabul embassy attack and the 26/11 terror strike) and rose to 600 in 2014. This year has seen a fresh spike in the violations with a staggering number of civilian and armed forces casualties. This is thanks to the prevailing bilateral tension and the inability of the CFA to sustain itself under the political stress.
- Written ceasefire agreements endure longer than unwritten ones like the verbally agreed upon India-Pak CFA.
- Ceasefire violations began mounting in 2008 and rose to 600 in 2014. 2016 has seen another spike in the violations.
- Often, local-level tactical military factors lead to violations.
- But also, while they bring about unnecessary casualties and destruction, they provide political gains.
- Current standoff is a result of failure of diplomacy at multiple levels.
Popular Myths About CFVs
The Indian and Pakistani media hardly ever try and uncover the real causes behind the CFVs and conveniently blame the ‘other side’ for violations. And the general public unquestioningly accepts the official version of events. While New Delhi consistently argues that CFVs are a result of the Pakistan army providing cover fire to infiltrators entering J&K, Islamabad says that Indian forces engage in unprovoked firing. The reality, however, is far more complicated: More often than not, local-level tactical military factors lead to CFVs.
Ever since the BJP government has come to power, CFVs have been on the rise. In 2014, a great deal of the firing that went on in Jammu, for instance, was a result of the pre-election political mobilisation by the BJP in Jammu. While the CFVs bring about unnecessary casualties and a great deal of destruction, there are clear political gains to be made from them.
Why is the Border Tense Today?
There are a number of reasons why the Indo-Pak border in J&K is under immense stress today. First of all, the prevailing uprising and unrest in Kashmir functions as the larger political background to the ongoing CFVs. Secondly, Rawalpindi is clearly making use of the unrest in Kashmir to make a political point to the international community (about Indian atrocities in Kashmir). The unabated tension on the border helps highlight that point. Thirdly, the so-called surgical strikes by the Indian army inside Pakistani territory in response to the Uri terror strike have further heightened the border tensions. Finally, the lack of a bilateral political engagement is acting as a force multiplier to the tension on the border.
In short, during periods of tension and in the absence of a political engagement, CFVs tend to rise, as was often seen in the past. Political sanction brings about an additional layer of permissiveness to the tactical military activities on the border.
During normal times, however, CFVs occur mostly due to local-level military factors. While a properly written down CFA can ensure its sustainability during peacetime, a well-designed CFA can go a long way in ensuring a certain amount of restraint even during periods of political stress.
What Needs to be Done?
The current standoff points to a failure of diplomacy at multiple levels. Therefore, in order to get the border back to normalcy, diplomatic initiatives need to be unleashed at multiple levels.
First of all, the war of words by the two sides should end – statesmen should learn to speak like statesmen, with a sense of decorum and responsibility. Secondly, the two DGMOs should meet and talk things out – the key functionaries of the two professional armies know how to silence their guns, if there is a desire to do so, that is. Thirdly, Rawalpindi needs to understand that its renewed Kashmir campaign would not be able to wrest Kashmir from India – it’s fighting a battle that it simply can’t win. Four, the two NSAs should revive the back-channel parleys they started late last year only to abandon them midway through.
Finally, Islamabad and New Delhi should draw up a new CFA – and this time, they should write it down!
(Happymon Jacob is Associate Professor of Disarmament Studies at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He can be reached @HappymonJacob. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)